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Your WHY Story, Ours, and Why It Matters

Sean: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Simon Sinek posited this very idea 14 years ago in his book Start With Why… that people buy why you do things and not what you are selling. That’s what we’re going to be exploring today, as well as why Pivotal Twist matters to you. I’m joined by my esteemed and very friendly colleague, Mr. Henry Caplan. How do you do today, Henry?

Henry: I’m good. Thank you. It’s going to be a fun chat about your Why.

Fascinating topic and Sinek talks a lot about understanding it as an organization and as an individual as well. Helps you internally — what gets me out of bed every morning — helps you externally — Hey, I share my why with you, we align.

Sean: So share with me, Henry, your why. And let me be a little bit more specific there. You have been a coach and a trainer, a facilitator, and a role player for two decades now. Why? What gets you out of bed to do that work?

Henry: Well, I have found, as a coach and a trainer, that every human being has incredible vision, ideas, leadership skills that are within them, strongly held conviction… And as they get older or the world changes around them, it gets more and more difficult for people to express that.

And I’m passionate about unlocking the key that allows people to communicate their story, their vision, their why to the world and really bring the best of themselves, the best of their ideas, to light because I believe it would be a better world when we all do that.

So that has been mission-critical for me, and it’s been a blast. I’ve worked with so many different thought leaders and leaders and emerging leaders, new hires all over the world, and it’s amazing to see them start from X and end at Y.

Sean: I remember you telling me a story about when you were in school and you were having some challenges, and one of your classmates came up to you and met those challenges head-on, like, you know, made them overt and helped you over a hump. Could you tell that story real quick?

Henry: So my why story starts in first grade. I am in a Hebrew-English-French immersion school in Canada and I’m supposed to read. And I’m dyslexic. So every day I’m reading and I’m praying that the teacher isn’t going to call on me to read in front of the class. And every night I go home and I pray that the teacher doesn’t call on me. And then one day at recess, smartest kid in the class comes up to me and says, Henry, can I talk to you for a second? I go, Yeah, sure. He says Listen, I see how much you struggle, when the teacher calls on you to read in front of the class. But I want you to know you’re smart. And I can tell when I talk to you. The way you see the world. You’re a smart kid. And I never forgot that.

He doesn’t even remember telling it to me. But I was the best man at his wedding, and I’ve coached him, and I’ve coached his team, and I’ve coached in his organizations. And when people ask me why I do what I do, I can pinpoint one singular moment in time where one innocent little first-grader, for no other reason than to be kind, gave impact and feedback to another first-grader that changed their mindset and ultimately changed their trajectory to the world. So you can really transform lives. And that’s what I’ve been dedicating my life to. And that’s my why.

Sean: And it is so resonant because whenever I hear that story and I’ve heard it a number of times and it still hits me in the heart, I am more likely to work with you to learn more. I want to be in the same sandbox with you, because I can empathize with that, because I can identify with that. Because I have compassion towards the situation. And I also see how you overcame the situation. And that makes me think I can overcome my challenges too.

Henry: Well, yeah, thank you for that. And it is very inspirational. But there’s you know, as Sinek talks about in the book, there’s so much we can unpack in terms of why. For instance, in sharing that, it’s a window into who I am personally. And any time there’s a window, there’s a mirror. Meaning, like you’re saying, Sean, people see themselves, their struggles reflected back. Humans do business with humans. It connects us. It’s vulnerable and it’s honest. And that builds trust. Primarily, people want to work with people that they trust.

And another thing about it is that it’s anecdotal. But it also speaks to different people learn differently. And that resonates with so many of us. You know, not everybody learns the same way. And I don’t care how smart you are, invariably there will come a time where you have to learn something and you’re struggling, and you need to apply even more grit and even more fortitude and even more mindset to get over the hump. So it resonates on so many different levels.

Sean: It makes me think of my why, which comes out a little bit differently. I have a personal mission in life, Henry. This is my North Star, and I’ve known it for ten years or so, and I expect it will be my North Star until I breathe my last breath. It is to help others think differently and laugh often. You know me well. I’ve always been somebody who zags while everybody else zigs, and that has been the case ever since I was a schoolchild. And so being able to help others look at life differently, take a different perspective is very important to me.

And I like to do it all through humor. I like to do it all with a wink and a smile and where people feel safe to let down their guard and to laugh along with the idea that there might be a different way of looking at things. And needless to say, that informs the way I work, too, the way that I work with clients, or deal with vendors, or am talking to shareholders. It’s all the same. I want to come with a different idea to put on the table and then to have a good time talking about it.

Henry: Yeah, that’s great Sean. And in terms of your why, making a difference in other people’s lives and doing it with humor, where does Story come into play?

Sean: So that is a integral part of it. I have never met a stage or a microphone I didn’t like. And so I have been telling stories in front of people again ever since I was in elementary school. And needless to say, it has informed my worldview. So storytelling is a part of how I show up in the world, but it’s also a part of how I make sense of the world. And you and I know this very well, that stories are the best way to make sense of the world. It’s the best way to get to people’s feelings, to communicate that there is something important that needs to be remembered, and then stories are the best way to make something memorable.

So… Thank you for asking that. It brings up a good question for me that I’d like to hear your reply for. Henry, let’s say I’m Joe Blow on the street and I come up to you and you tell me that you run Pivotal Twist. My question to you is, well, why? Why did you start Pivotal Twist? What’s the why behind the company?

Henry: Well, for me, the why behind Pivotal Twist is to work with organizations and individuals, to upskill, to enhance communication, leadership, organizations building out a more human-to-human culture through the lens of story. Story is what informs my life and what informs all of my coaching and all of my training. And it’s interesting, right? Because. You know why Story, which we just talked about… Because story really is, for me, the most human way of learning. It’s examples from our lives. It’s incorporating our imagination. It’s taking a leap into, you know, our personal stories and sharing, you know, things that are a little bit more revealing of ourselves.

But Story takes us someplace. There’s a journey in a story. And so much about Pivotal Twist is we offer journeys and transformation. You start at X, you go through Y, you end at Z, and then rinse and repeat depending on how much more that you want to work on. I mean your life, your skills as a business person or as a leader, your organization… It’s all a journey. It never ends. The story never runs out. It’s just how are you owning the story or how is the story owning you? What kind of a story do you want to tell? What kind of strategy do you want to build? What kind of things do you want to create, and then how are you going to get there? And my life has been all about the pain-gain journey.

Let’s take this crazy circuitous route called life and take control of what we have control over and create powerful outcomes. And it’s so rewarding.

Like when I started with a client who was like, I’m not a storyteller. (And again, that’s just one aspect of what we train.) I’m not a storyteller. And we put these labels on ourselves. Right? He’s decided he’s not a storyteller. So I spend an hour with him coaching, training, asking him questions, and he’s full of stories. Oh, you mean that counts? Yeah. It does. Those are stories. Those stories we can craft together and we’ll create powerful impact. Don’t believe me? Try it in the world. Shake that out to three weeks later, four weeks later, road-testing, and people are coming back with different labels. Oh, I guess I am a storyteller. Darn right, you are. Darn right. So, you know, it’s transformation in mindset. It’s adding new skills. I mean, that’s the world that Pivotal Twist plays in. And it’s so powerful.

Sean: I like to think of three different ways that Story informs the existence of Pivotal Twist — the reason why Pivotal Twist exists. One of them is, needless to say, it’s an allusion to our experience in history. Henry, I don’t need to remind you that you and I met on-stage for a off-off Broadway play. It was essentially Frankenstein the Musical in New York City back in the day when we were young men. And we were actors and we were writers and we were directors, and we just embraced theater and film and storytelling to the nth degree. And then when we transitioned from the creative pursuit to the professional pursuit, storytelling continued to be the backbone of what we were doing, with coaching, with training, with consulting. Story was still informing our work, and to this day it does too.

The second reason that I think of is practical. Stories communicate. Stories are so great at being able to give you a message in a clear way. And then stories resonate. Stories are so successful at being able to touch you in the heart and be meaningful. And because stories communicate so well and they resonate so well, stories stick. They are memorable. And so that’s why they are so effective.

And that brings me to the third reason why story is the thing that makes Pivotal Twist different and why it makes us so effective at our work. Because when you apply storytelling to the work of bringing people together to do their best work, you oftentimes get the best success.

So let’s talk a little bit about bridging our background from when we were young men as actors, writers, directors to our lives now as partners with Pivotal Twist and helping organizations leverage their talent. Tell me how you took your experience from that world and have applied it to Pivotal Twist and more specifically to our clients and their success?

Henry: Sure. So picture this: you’re an actor and you’re lucky enough to get a role in a play. And you walk in to a big white space with no furniture and tape on the floor and mirrors. And there’s a director, and there’s a whole other group of people that you’ve never met before, and they’re all holding scripts in their hands. And it’s time for the first rehearsal. Nobody knows anything. It’s inherently vulnerable. It’s extraordinarily scary. There is pressure. We’re going to actually open this play. We have to very quickly learn how we relate to other people and nurture ourselves, understanding how we like to work, how others like to work and compromise and collaborate. Be bold and share ideas. Shut up and let somebody else speak. Analyze analytically what the script is saying, what our character is saying, how we function in the story, what it all means. How we take this seriously but not too seriously. Not to be too precious.

Well, as an actor, Sean, you know that world as well as I know that world. And we did it hundreds and hundreds of times. So when I started to work in the corporate world as a coach and a facilitator and created courses, I incorporated a lot of the skills that I learned as an actor and a director and a writer. Building psychological safety so people feel comfortable to bring their best selves. Using your analytic skills to look at what are our goals? Where are we going? Where can we break down and speak with honesty. Where are we right now? And what’s the journey? What’s the distance to get to where we need to get to? How can we do it with integrity and hold ourselves accountable and be very serious in the process, and also laugh our rear ends off.

Because it’s a human creative process and that means it’s messy. How can we stay confident in that mess? There are so many practical applications to being an actor, director, writer and coaching, leadership, communication, and culture. And especially through the lens of story. So that’s my answer.

Sean: It’s a beautiful answer. And you know what, Henry? Every time that we started a new theater production, every time that we began a new film or started a theater company of our own, we were building culture. And the reason is simple we wanted to get everybody together to do their best work. And so if you build a healthy culture, people want to show up, they want to do their best work, and they end up doing it and having a good time in the process. You know, they’re motivated to be more productive and to stay loyal. So if those aren’t, you know, three big things that any business leader right now is going, Ding ding ding ding, that’s what I want my team to do, then something is amiss.

That’s how we have bridged the gap. Because we’re helping leaders to get their team members to be more motivated, more productive and more loyal. That is the hallmarks of a healthy culture.

So let me piggyback on that for a second. Three terms from Aristotle: Logos. Ethos. Pathos. What do they mean? Why am I bringing them up?

Henry: Ethos. Logos, and Pathos, stemming from Aristotle, are the way we influence and persuade. Rhetoric, right? Ethos is how we influence others through our leadership character, the things that we value. How we talk about our values — through Story — how we live our values — through behavior — is a powerful way that we influence others. Modeling that behavior has an impact on the world. — I pick up the garbage on the street. It’s contagious. — I mean, people judge other people unconsciously and consciously through their values and how well they live them, and how well they articulate them.

Logos is the logical argument. Many people rely on logic, of course, as leverage, and that’s an important piece to the influencing puzzle.

Lastly, you have pathos, which is the emotional argument. Again, back to story. All of these, by the way — the story throughlines through logic, through emotion, and through character — all of those can be expressed through Story. But Aristotle is really looking at the totality of who we are as people as a way of influencing others. And by analyzing those three pillars, we start to develop those skills internally within ourselves, and we can start to make conscious choices when we use them, and suddenly we’re achieving so much more.

Sean: So, Henry, once again, I love talking about this with you, but I want to end with one last question. I’m going to ask you to keep it super-concise. When people think of Pivotal Twist, what’s the one thing that you think people think about, or should think about?

Henry: In order to drive business results, infuse Story in your culture, in your leadership, and in your communication.

Sean: Beautiful. I don’t think that I can top that one. That’s a great one. Absolutely, absolutely. There is a reason that we lean into story and it’s because it is so effective. So with that, I want to say thank you, my friend, for spending the time with me today. I always enjoy your company.

Henry: You too buddy. Thank you.

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